An interview with Walter Trout: I know I’m broken

Walter Trout discusses ‘Broken,’ his new album that will become historically important in the evolution of blues-rock. “I’d hit a wall, and I had to stop thinking about this because it was too much for me.” That’s when blues rocker Walter Trout called on his wife Marie for help in writing the lyrics to the title cut of his just released new album Broken.

“Now, she’s never been an addict. She’s never been an alcoholic, but she’s been with me for 33 years, right? And she knows the stories, and about an hour (after I asked her) she sent me a whole bunch of lyrics and that became the song. She’s got at least 60% of the lyrics on that tune.

“I went in the next day,” explains Walter. “I had the music. I sang the song, and the whole time I was singing the song I could hear Beth Hart singing with me. Beth is a dear friend of mine, and I love her dearly. To me, Beth is one of the greatest artists walking the planet, and we’re lucky we have her and her music in our lives. There is nobody like her.

“That song is about grief, and it’s pretty heavy, but there’s a line in there that says, ‘I know I’m broken.’ That’s the grief. I sang it on stage every night for a couple of years, and every night I sang it I’d get back to my room – and every time I’d sing ‘I know I’m broken,’ I’d hear something in my head going, ‘But I don’t want to be broken/ I don’t want to be so full of grief/ I don’t want to be full of sadness/ I want to grab life/ I want to live my life the best I can and not be weighed down.’ So, I had this idea for that song. I don’t want to be broken.

“When it was time to start writing, I thought about that instead of grief. I sat down and thought about when I was hopelessly addicted to narcotics and alcohol, and I was going through some pretty heavy mental problems that I had to go into therapy for and thinking about how I need to escape this brokenness. I need to get past it. I started writing the lyrics, and pieces of myself seemed to break away. I lose a little more each and every day. I had some other lines, but it became too close to me. I had lived it, and I started putting myself back in that frame of mind, and it got pretty intense.

Beth Hart duets with Walter on that title song. “With Beth you hear her heart and soul. There is nobody out there that sings like her. She’s an incredible songwriter, and she is one of the great artists of our time. Anyway, I could hear her in my head singing this, and I figured she could relate to the tune. So, I sent her the song and the next day she got in touch with me and said, ‘Yeah, I want to do this with you.’ So, she came in and sang.

“She came into the studio. She was there. I was there. The band was there. Eric the producer was there. She was a real pro, also. She didn’t want to stop. She kept going, ‘Let me sing it again.’

“‘No, we’ve got it. You’ve done an incredible job.’

“She goes, ‘I’m just loving singing this song. Let me go again.’ She called me the next day, and said, ‘Thank you so much for having me on that song, and I will always look back on that day as just one of the great times that I’ve had.’ She was there with her husband, and we had an awesome day. We had a lot of laughs and there were tears. She put everything she had into that song.

“I need to give her my gratitude and my love for coming in and doing that because she elevates that song to a whole new level.She probably sang it 20 times. We had it. She just wanted to keep singing. She loves singing. I’m telling you she’s one of the greatest. I’ve listened to it 10,000 times now because every time there’s that break and she comes in with that opening line, I get goose bumps. I almost start crying, you know, and I’ve actually played that song for a lot of people before even you journalists have heard it. I’ve played it for people at my house, and they’ve been reduced to tears. It’s a very potent piece of work, and both my wife and I are very proud of that piece of music.”

I asked Walter how he’s going to do her part live on his upcoming tour. “I’ll have to do it without her, you know. If there’s a great female vocalist in the town I’m coming from whatever town – if they want to get up and sing it with me, that would be great.”

Beth Hart is the one we hear on the record, but the words wouldn’t exist were it not for Walter’s wife Marie. “I called my wife who is an award-winning songwriter, and I said, ‘Look, this is what I’m trying to say, but I’m having a hard time.”

Marie also co-wrote two other songs on the Broken record, “Turn Away” and “I Wanna Stay.” The genesis of “Broken” comes from the song “All Out of Tears.” “I wrote that song (which won a Blues Music Award) with Marie and Teeny Tucker. It was inspired when Teeny lost her son and she was filled with grief. We talked about it and decided to write a song and dedicate it to the memory of Teeny’s boy.

This is Walter’s sixth studio album since his miraculous last-minute reprieve from death following a liver transplant. And at the expense of alienating rock fans who like their music to be rebellious and immature, the 12 originals on this record are the antithesis of youthful revolt.

Walter wrote the other songs on Broken sequestered in the home he owns with Marie. “I was in the house alone here in Huntington Beach the same way I did Ride. I get into a sort of mental emotional zone, and my wife and I have figured out it’s better if I’m alone. She used to say to the kids, ‘Dad’s got to write an album now. We’ll see him in a couple of weeks. He’s not on the planet with us right now. He’s got 12 songs rolling around in his head now.’”

Years before Walter met Marie, he played lead guitar with Big Mama Thorton, Canned Heat, and John Mayall. Mayall called him the Peter Pan of the blues. “That’s ’cause he said that I refused to grow up. That’s also back when I was drinking and doping. I got sober in his band. My God, he put up with so much from me, so much insane behavior.” Broken is an important step up for Walter Trout, one that very well may become as important historically in the evolution of blues-rock as Mayall’s Beano album with Eric Clapton on lead guitar was in 1965.

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